A new careful analysis of (and, as usual, wild speculation about) an IAEA safeguards report on Iran’s nuclear program earlier this year by David Albright, Paul Brannan and Christina Walrond of non-governmental, Washington D.C.-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) suggests a dramatic and highly deleterious effect of the mysterious Stuxnet worm on the large number (1000) of operating centrifuges at the Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP) in Natanz between November 2009 and February 2010. It seems that in particular module A26 was affected. On February 18, 2010 the International Atomic Energy Agency’s new Director General Yukiya Amano had delivered his first report on Iran and had used, for the first time and in contrast to his immediate predecessor Mohamed ElBaradei, more articulate wording that Iran does not cooperate with the agency in the desired way. Well, at that time, the public had rather scrutinized the report as to whether Iran is in breach of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, which it is not.
Thanks to Albright et al. now one might further speculate whether Stuxnet had hit Natanz just before Amano’s first report. There had been other estimates as well. Already in June 2009 the number of fed and spinning centrifuges at FEP had sharply dropped, and on July 17, WikiLeaks wrote on its page, according to Frank Geekheim:
“Two weeks ago, a source associated with Iran’s nuclear program confidentially told WikiLeaks of a serious, recent, nuclear accident at Natanz. Natanz is the primary location of Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. WikiLeaks had reason to believe the source was credible however contact with the source was lost. WikiLeaks would not normally mention such an incident without additional confirmation, however according to Iranian media and the BBC, today the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Gholam Reza Aghazadeh, has resigned under mysterious circumstances. According to these reports, the resignation was tendered around 20 days ago.”
That Mr. Aghazadeh was rather fired is most likely. That Iran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki was fired last week, when on a diplomatic mission to Senegal, who had most probably signaled some concession in the nuclear stand-off with world powers P1+5 on Iran’s nuclear program and that he was succeeded by the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi might reflect the immense frustrations the expensive but malfunctioning centrifuges in Natanz may cause among the Iranian leadership.
What Stuxnet actually does with frequency converter drives can be seen on Symantec’s page here.
Ralph Langner, the German software and security engineer who has extensively studies Stuxnet, writes,
“Many reporters these days ask about cyber warfare in the wake of Stuxnet, and what kind of Stuxnet-inspired attacks we should prepare for. Here’s one very easy answer. The next full-scale Stuxnet-inspired attack, let’s call it Stuxnet 2.0, will likely hit targets in Natanz, Fordow, and Bushehr. That’s right, the very same targets of Stuxnet 1.0. How is that? Simple: After having recovered from Stuxnet 1.0, which will probably be somewhere in 2012, Iran will attempt to continue its nuclear program. Since the first cyber strike worked so well, it would be outright stupid to send the B-2s next time. As long as another cyber attack has any chance for success, it will certainly be attempted.
“The nuclear threat from Iran, should it exist, has been significantly reduced by a software-based DoN attack that appears to be reproducible (DoN = Denial-of-Nukes).”
Well done, I suppose.
Last modified December 23, 2010.